UW News

October 15, 1996

New UW center to focus on health and safety of foresters, fishers and farmers throughout the region

Preventing injury and illness among farming, forestry and fishing workers throughout the region is the goal of a newly opened health center in the Department of Environmental Health at the University of Washington School of Public Health and Community Medicine.
The Pacific Northwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center, funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), will serve Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska.

“Farmers, foresters and fishers in Washington had the highest rates of occupational fatalities in the last decade,” said Dr. Richard Fenske, center director and UW associate professor of environmental health. “We are pleased to have funding from NIOSH to assist in preventing injuries and illnesses in these important economic sectors.”

Activities at the center will include working to understand patterns of disease, assessing problems and concerns among natural resource workers and establishing ties with community resources to help promote safer, healthier working environments. Examples of research efforts include examining the effects of childhood exposure to pesticides, the relations between ergonomics and traumatic injuries in the fishing industry, and respiratory problems related to exposure to chemical agents.

“We’ll work with labor and management representatives as well as government agencies to identify problems in the workplace and determine what steps to take ‹ research, assessment or education,” Fenske said. “From there, we’ll coordinate our efforts with health and safety professionals in the region who can help us in our efforts to reach workers.”

The center has three core groups structured to support research and outreach initiatives. The Occupational Medicine and Epidemiology Core, lead by Associate Director Matthew Keifer, will initially focus on hazard identification based on existing data and industry-wide surveys. The Industrial Hygiene and Safety Core, with oversight by Fenske, will develop the capability to conduct workplace sampling and develop study designs for intervention research. And the Outreach, Training and Evaluation Core, directed by Sharon Morris, will help bring the center’s research activities to agricultural workers and families and to the safety and medical care professionals who care for them.

To provide a strong regional focus on the agricultural industries in Eastern Washington and Idaho, the center has partnered with Eastern Washington University’s Farm Health and Safety Center. Dr. Pamela Elkind, director of the EWU center, will serve as principal investigator at this satellite facility.

In addition to the core groups and satellite facility, a Pilot Projects program will award funding for three projects to be started in January 1997. Applications will be solicited from center researchers and non-center investigators and reviewed this fall.

The UW center is one of nine NIOSH-funded agricultural centers throughout the United States. For more information about the center’s programs, please contact Adrienne Hidy at 206-685-8962.